I thought this really long record record review of one of the greatest albums made in the 70s could be of interest.
What did they think of it when it was new? Well, as you will find out, Mr. Erskine did have a positive attitude towards it. Have a nice read!
How Pink Floyd learned to stop worrying and make another album
The Floyd: from success to success via disenchantment
By Pete Erskine
Pink Floyd: “Wish You Were Here” (Harvest)
You needn`t be psychic to be able to predict the courses taken by most rock bands; indeed one of the overriding features of rock`s mainstream is in its universal predictability.
“Dark Side Of The Moon” is celebrating its 128th week in the charts; a top twenty staple since its appearance at number one in March 1973.
Yet for all its colossal and continuing worldwide sales and its garnering for the Floyd of new, hitherto, unexploited record buying markets including many first-time pop record purchasers – “Dark Side” must have become something of an albatross.
The extent of its success left the Floyd slightly bewildered and in a position of unenviable obligation; the record had sold world-wide – they were thus committed to two years of touring with it.
How could they possibly retain any interest in the project?
Consider it. Nowadays most `major` albums may take in excess of six months intensive recording; millions of playbacks, countless hours dwelling on the slightest chord change.
Quite often, by the time the album actually hits the racks the band is already bored with it – and frequently already involved with the embryo of its successor.
As it happens, “Dark Side” took over a year in the making. “It was a good package” offered a reluctant Dave Gilmour when asked why he thought the album had sold so well.
This was reflected by the attitude of most of the people I`ve talked to since who bought it. With one accord their opening line has been “yeah… well it`s really well produced isn`t it?”
I honestly think that the Floyd themselves have never regarded it as a major work. They`re also aware of a faction that operates in response to all bands of their level – the unselective Fan Syndrome which readily scarfs up virtually anything dubbed `Floyd`. They`re also aware of the motivation of intellectual snobbery/reflected glory; wherein it is supposed that the Floyd are an `intelligent` group – respectable enough to make the crossover from Greatcoatland to the coffee table – and therefore, by association, the buyer also feels himself to be `intelligent`.
The irony was that under close scrutiny “Dark Side” is as obvious as any Uriah Heep album; I mean, titling a track “Brain Damage” is hardly a masterstroke of subtlety, but to preface it with demented rantings?
Anyway, the point I`m trying to make is twofold. Threefold actually.
I would assess the results of “Moon`s” success thus:
a) The fact that it accrued the Floyd a wider cross-section of potential purchases of any subsequent albums meant that the pressure on them to adopt a `safe` middle course became greater than ever. They must have felt a tremendous pressure to have to try and repeat the “Moon” formula (whatever that may be) – which is why, one supposes, they went through a period of token rebellion by embarking on a possible follow-up recorded entirely on coal scuttles, rubber band etc.
b) Roger Waters – whose lyrics always seem to have been marked by strong elements of morose melancholy and angry-young-man protestations – began manifesting the increased cynicism felt by the band at the nature of their `success`. Perhaps nobody on that level who is really honest with himself figures that his talent really justifies the extent of his adulation.
Thus, during one of the new pieces performed on the last English tour, “Gotta Be Crazy” – a cynical modern-day survival kit detailing our conditioning to twisted values – he comes out with the lines “Gotta be sure, you gotta be quick/Gotta divide the tame from the sick/Gotta keep some of us docile and fit/You gotta keep everyone buying this shit.”
c) The fact that the band were saddled with having to perform “Moon” – a project they were not 100% satisfied with in the first place – over and over for two years began to have an adverse effect on their morale and their instrumental abilities; the fact that “Wish You Were Here” has taken even longer to make than “Moon” seems to suggest that for at least part of the time they were really at a loss for new ideas. Furthermore, even apart from the abortive “Households Objects” project, they made two or three other abortive stop-starts.
They were – as you probably know – bootlegged on last year`s tour.
“British Winter Tour `74” comprised the three new numbers showcased therein – “Raving And Drooling”, “Gotta Be Crazy” and a 22-minute tribute to Syd Barrett, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”.
After having seen them perform these on two successive occasions at Wembley all I could conclude was that “Moon” had finally cauterised the last vestiges of The Element Of Surprise supposedly typified by the band.
Though – as the bootleg reveals – the quality of their performances improved immeasurably towards the end of the tour, I couldn`t help but feel that as a last desperate uninspired measure they`ve finally succumbed to recycling the more obvious musical bits of “Moon”, coupling them with Waters` lyrical protestations which were often rendered insincere through the use of some rather obvious and hackneyed imagery.
It is therefore with genuine pleasure that I can tell you that “Wish You Were Here” belies all expectations of it being a certified stiff.
It is by no means a mightily challenging radically experimental album, but where “Moon” seemed flatulent, morose, aimless and sometimes positively numbskull, “Wish You Were Here” is concise, highly melodic and, in a pleasingly (and perhaps deceptively) simple fashion, very well played. In particular, there are carefully, thoughtfully executed solos from Dave Gilmour (mostly within a kind of blues idiom) and Richard Wright.
The cover, like the album, is clean and positive.
Where Hipgnosis` “Dark Side” sleeve seemed to bear little relation to the contents, and to be pictorially rather sombre, their “Wish You Were Here” package is amusing and imaginative.
The outer sleeve is devoid of graphics. The front is a colour photograph, singed in the top right hand corner, set on a white background. A pair of Sicilian-looking managerial types are shaking hands in a deserted Los Angeles film lot. The one on the right is on fire.
The backside – another colour photograph on a white background – this time with sand seeping through a small rent in the border, is a Magritte-inspired montage of a pinstriped bowler-hatted executive with transparent wrists and ankles and an eyeless, mouthless face partially in shadow, standing on a sand dune with one foot on the de rigeur rock `n` roll fibreglass briefcase, offering a transparent copy of the record in his right hand.
The inner sleeve is faced with a similarly laid-out piece of surrealism – a row of poplars photographed at ground-level fronted by a large red airborne chiffon scarf within which the body of a woman can be vaguely detected.
The reverse carries a small picture (again, Magritte inspired) of a diver, having entered the waters of the Red Sea without a ripple. Surrounded by sleeve credits and the lyrics.
According to Richard Wright, Storm and Po`s (that`s Hipgnosis`) intention had been to carry through the idea suggested by the title in a pictorial fashion – i.e., that “Wish You Were Here” is a stock postcard phrase that invariably means the exact opposite.
Which is why all the pictures are supposed to represent impossibles – the splashless dive, etc.
EMI`s Brian Southall offers up more logical explanations: “The faceless man in the desert is a record executive; the split with the sand coming out of it is supposed to represent the slipping away of the sands of time.
“The photograph of the guys shaking hands is supposed to represent earth, wind and fire, the trees with the bit of red rag is to fill up white space.”
The package comes in black shrink-wrapped plastic with a sticker of a mechanical handshake over a stylised landscape. One hand is metal, the other plastic. This is supposed to represent the affiliation of the earth with the machine, the elements (represented by plastic??) shaking hands with the automaton.
Within, the theme is exploited by three thematically linked tracks after which the album closes with a restyled reprise of side one`s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”
“Welcome To The Machine” is also thematically linked to the dumped “Gotta Be Crazy” which was about Keeping Up With Progress, ruthlessness catalysed by warped materialistic values.
Literally, “Welcome To The Machine” is an acidic view of the record business as a mechanical conveyor belt, where the unsuspecting “artiste” is regaled by bullshit managers playing on his bullshit conditioning: “Welcome my son, welcome to the machine/What did you dream? It`s alright we told you what to dream/You dreamed of a big star, he played a mean guitar.”
The track opens with Wright knocking out a series of overdubbed cybernetic rhythms as Gilmour handles the vocals with an eerie, keening hopelessness whilst providing acoustic guitar accompaniment to Wright`s synthetic string fills.
Like most of Waters` songs, “Welcome To The Machine” exudes an atmosphere of pre-destined doom. “The Machine” is doubtless intended to have associations outside of the record business.
Roy Harper opens the second side with the next step, “Have A Cigar” musically a relative of “Money.”
The lyrics are a pastiche of Heavy Manager Rap: “Come in here, dear boy, have a cigar…/ Well, I`ve always had a deep respect, and I mean that most sincerely/ The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think/Oh by the way which one`s Pink?”
Gilmour plays an incisive Texan-style guitar outro leading into an inspired idea for a link; his closing notes suddenly become transmuted to sound as if they`re coming from a tinny radio speaker. An unseen hand changes stations through a miasma of static and atmospherics, the tail end of a radio play, a burst of orchestral music, before settling on a fading, distanced acoustic guitar piece.
The Unseen Figure waits for the tune to come round again, picks up his own acoustic guitar and begins playing along in counterpoint – traditionally the way that most young guitarists learn to play.
The melody evolves into the title track, “Wish You Were Here,” another Waters opus to tedium and routine and ultimate hopelessness.
The side closes with the third verse of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” – Waters doing his “Eugene” bass part.
Personally, I don`t find the lyrics as offensive to The Memory Of Syd as colleague Nick Kent, although the odd simile jangles a bit – “When you were young you shone like the sun…now there`s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky” – however they may be compensated for with lines like “you wore out your welcome with random precision.”
Against all odds “Wish You Were Here” easily outdistances “Moon” in terms of the context of Floyd music – to which I`ll admit, again, that I`m not a great subscriber.
I enjoy the playing, the blending of the instruments, more on this album than on any of its predecessors; it makes for very pleasant listening.
I doubt, however, that my affection for it will increase with the passage of time and repeated plays; indeed, already, just in the course of writing this review I am beginning to find parts of it slightly melancholic, a little depressing.
But then I doubt many people will ever have to approach it from my particular viewpoint.
I still find Waters` political stance disturbing. There`s a real and bitter fervour in “Welcome To The Machine,” “Have A Cigar” and “Wish You Were Here.” As there was in “Gotta Be Crazy” and “Money.”
To say that his lyrics can sometimes be “obvious” is perhaps unfair. “Obvious” in terms of what?
“Umma Gumma” never was intended to be the serious enfant terrible of psychedelia. That was only the sum of the claims people made for it. So why shouldn`t Waters be “Obvious”? It`s very easy to end up panning a band for the nature of the claims made for it by The Fans.
However, the real question is whether Waters – if he really feels these things so strongly – is better deployed utilising the pop medium, possibly stirring millions of people`s imagination, or whether he should be out on the streets physically changing things.
Do you therefore bring about changes from infiltrating The System and working from within a context people will understand (at risk of being tainted by that system) or do you cut yourself loose and work from a practical guerilla basis?
The irony must surely be that the Pink Floyd are making money out of criticising the machine that makes them money.
Perhaps, as an artist, one`s role is simply to illuminate one`s realisations to the masses – it being up to them to decide whether or not to bring about changes.
But, on the other hand, if you stand in a position of influence and wealth…and if you really care…
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Paul McCartney, Robert Calvert, Carlos Santana, Alex Harvey, Jimi Hendrix, Maurice White, Cecil Taylor, Alan Longmuir (Bay City Rollers), Alice Cooper.
This edition is sold!